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Global Fund for Women calls for immediate release of women’s human rights activist

Mu Sochua celebrating her release, waving a flag from atop a car

UPDATE: Mu Sochua was released from prison on July 22, 2014 on conditional bail along with her 6 colleagues. Thank you for standing in solidarity with these fearless activists, greeted by jubilant crowds of supporters outside of Prey Sar Prison in Cambodia. In a note written the day before she was released, Mu Sochua wrote words that ring true for all human rights defenders: “A dream will make us fight to see it come true. An expectation will lead to passivity and probably to disappointment.”



Black and white portrait of Mu Sochua, a middle-aged Cambodian woman, looking at the camera. Photo ©Lucia De Giovanni

Global Fund for Women calls for the immediate release of Member of Parliament-elect Mu Sochua and six of her colleagues in Cambodia where they were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on July 15th, for charges of insurrection, following a clash between district security guards and protestors. Since her arrest she has not been allowed to see anyone, other than her lawyer, and her colleagues have similarly been denied access to any visitors. Watch video footage depicting the arrest.

Commenting today, Global Fund for Women president and chief executive officer, Musimbi Kanyoro, said “Sochua, a former Global Fund for Women Board Member, has been instrumental as a leader in creating opportunities for women to participate in political spheres as elected representatives, civic champions and community activists. She is a woman of immense courage and conviction and she has a global network of supporters actively working to secure her freedom. We appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen to order the immediate release of Mu Sochua and to reassure the global community of his commitment to the right of citizens to speak out in Cambodia without fear of detention.”

Mu Sochua is the former Minister of Women's Affairs in Cambodia and in 2005, she was one of the 1,0000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand.

Sochua has worked at the grassroots and policy levels on gender-based violence, freedom of the media, trafficking, labor rights, and women's civic and political participation for many years and she was an official advisor to the Global Fund for Women for over a decade. She was one of seven remarkable women from around the world whose life and contribution was honored in a documentary play called Seven produced by Global Fund for Women grantee, Vital Voices and in 2010 she was the recipient of the People's Choice Award instituted by Global Exchange for her work in serving under-represented populations and for giving them voice through her program "Women's Voices, Women's Choices".

Sochua returned to Cambodia in 1989 after 18 years in exile, and she has worked as an advocate for human rights, working to stop domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking and to advocate for worker rights and democratic processes. She formed the first organization for women, called Khemara (Khmer: ខេមរា). and she joined the Funcinpec political party, winning a national assembly seat representing Battambang in 1998. Soon afterwards, she was asked to take over the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, one of only two women in the cabinet. In July 2004 she stepped down from her role as a Minister, citing corruption as a major obstacle to her work. Almost immediately, she transferred her allegiance to the Sam Rainsy party, where she became secretary general before becoming Member of Parliament-elect.

We call on Ambassador Hem Heng, and his Government to immediately release Mu Sochua and her colleagues and to actively demonstrate their commitment to democracy as they build a new foundation for their country’s future based on justice, respect and due process. Please join us in calling for Mu Sochua’s immediate release by signing this petition and by sending letters of support to Ambassador Hem Heng:

His Excellency Mr. Hem Heng
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Royal Embassy of Cambodia
4530 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011

 

For the women of Liberia, a long road ahead to rebuild after Ebola crisis

A group of Liberian women

The deadliest Ebola outbreak on record is sweeping West Africa, with over 3,400 lives claimed already. The disease is spreading faster than ever before, with the World Health Organization estimating that 20,000 additional cases will be reported by November. And women are being affected most severely—in fact, 75 percent of those who have died from Ebola are women.

“Women have been affected in so many, many ways. Even though the disease of course affects both men and women, women are at a disadvantage—period,” says Marpue Speare, Executive Director of Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL). “Women are on the front lines. They are the caregivers. Protective gear can be used to help, but women are dying from simple things that can be prevented,” says Speare.

“Women have been affected in so many, many ways. Even though the disease of course affects both men and women, women are at a disadvantage—period. Women are on the front lines. They are the caregivers.”
—Marpue Speare, Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia

The need for caretakers is especially acute in rural communities where there are few health clinics, leaving the women to feed, wash, and care for Ebola victims without even basic protections such as gloves, goggles, or masks, making them extremely vulnerable to contracting the virus. Women also participate in burial rites that require handling infected bodies.

Global Fund for Women is acting quickly to provide crisis support to some of our long-standing grantee partners in Ebola-hit communities in Liberia, and through these groups, we learn how women are being disproportionately affected by the outbreak.

Local organizations picking up the slack

“The crisis is the worst in the Liberia’s history after the civil upheaval that lasted for fourteen years,” says Zaye Fanyean Zarweah of Give Them Hope, Inc., a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “Everyone lives in fear not knowing who the next victim would be to this deadly virus. Some health workers describe an infected community or region as living near the gate of hell.”

Some of the barriers to controlling the spread of the virus include a widespread lack of education and basic knowledge about the causes of the disease and how it is spread, as well as the reluctance of many to seek treatment for a variety of reasons, including fear. For this reason supporting trusted community-led organizations that already have roots in affected areas is especially important. “[WONGOSOL] is working through our network members to tap into their own communities so that you don’t have to bring in people from the outside,” says Speare. “It works better because they have those relationships within the community. They know if a case is not yet reported, they know the right people to give them the right help. They respond better because they know one another—they are like family.”

As hospitals are overwhelmed with Ebola patients, local organizations are left to pick up the slack, especially in rural communities. For example, WONGOSOL is alsosetting up hand washing stations in various communities that have been quarantined, and providing access to basic hygiene to families who cannot afford chlorine, soap, and sanitizer to prevent the spread of the virus. Another Global Fund for Women grantee partner, The West Point Women for Health and Development Organization (WPWHDO), works in the urban community of West Point in the capital of Monrovia. WPWHDO has opened a mini care center that will meet the health care needs of people presenting symptoms but who have to wait days to be taken to the nearest hospital, a symptom of the country’s long-standing infrastructure problem.

“The country is still emerging out of war even though the war ended in 2003. There are extremely limited health facilities,” says Muadi Mukenge, the Global Fund for Women’s program director for Sub-Saharan Africa. “Women are not able to reach facilities, particularly women living in rural communities. There aren’t that many facilities to begin with, so you often have to go to another district or another province. More than 80 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, so money for transport is scarce. And so we’re really seeing a crisis in Liberia that speaks to the fact that the health system itself is particularly weak and women are feeling the brunt of that.”

No room for maternal healthcare

Even women who do not contract Ebola are at risk, as the country’s health system has been pushed to the brink by the current crisis. “Most hospitals and clinics across the country are closed for lack of protective materials and drugs,” says Zarweah of Give Them Hope, Inc., a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. Give Them Hope works with women in rural Upper Nimba County, improving maternal health services through a health clinic it operates, and offering skill-based training and education to develop more women leaders in the community.

“As we speak, pregnant women and babies are very vulnerable, as no health worker is willing to touch patients."
—Zarweah, Give Them Hope, Inc.

Maternal health services are especially important in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, since already-insufficient healthcare facilities are being stretched even thinner as they try to care for the many infected Ebola patients, meaning that pregnant women are not able to access the care they need.

“As we speak, pregnant women and babies are very vulnerable, as no health worker is willing to touch patients, especially in the rural area in Nimba where we serve,” says Zarweah of Give Them Hope, Inc. “Pregnant women are left on their own to deliver themselves on bare roads on the street. Hundreds of people have died of the virus and many pregnant women and children have died for lack of attention and intervention.” (Global Fund for Women’s support will enable Give Them Hope to raise awareness through the local FM radio and provide timely maternal health care services in rural Nimba. It will also provide for the cost of drugs, medication, services, transportation, and stipend for service deliverers, and train women on safe ways to care for sick family members.)

Survivors being left behind

Global Fund for Women allies on the ground say Ebola is also taking a serious toll on survivors, who are being rejected from the community due to fear that they might be contaminated.

“Ebola survivors are being stigmatized. If a family suffers from Ebola and they lost their loved ones because of the virus, people don’t want to associate with them,” says Speare, adding that children who are being orphaned by the disease are also stigmatized. Current reports estimate that 3,700 children have lost one or both parents so far due to Ebola. “People don’t want to associate with [the orphans] because their parents have died, and they are afraid the children have the disease. The children are also being isolated [by health workers] to make sure they are not infected. It is traumatizing for them.

“Telling the community how to receive these people and accept them back into the community is a major issue,” says Speare. “With a situation like that they have lost everything. There is absolutely nothing when they get back home—no community and no support.”

How to move forward

One thing is certain: the impact of the current Ebola epidemic on Liberians will be long-term. “In Monrovia, ambulances collect bodies every day from different communities. If you are here, you can see when people hear the sirens and see the ambulance go by, people on the sidewalk get very quiet and are very sad,” says Speare. “People who have survived have been neglected, and they are traumatized. Counseling needs to be taken seriously. Children who have lost their parents need to be supported. We need to look at women, specifically pregnant women, and caretaker women who need protective gear.”

In order to help women on the road to recovery after the crisis—and to prevent backsliding when the next crisis hits—experts say investments need to be made in women and girls’ health, education, and empowerment on an enduring basis.

“The fragility of health services in Liberia is reflected in the fact that only7 percent of the national budget is allocated to health, which translates to about $10 per person,” says Mukenge. “Liberia continues to count on donor aid for a large part of its health budget and services. Going forward, there is political will to improve the health sector, particularly in rural counties where the majority of poor women live, where there are proposed programs to trainan adequate amount ofhealth workers.

“We need to focus on strengthening local institutions long-term instead of just focusing on short-term solutions, and we need to make sure that any revitalization efforts for the economy or educational system are framed such so that they benefit women,”says Mukenge. “As long as we have these issues—lack of infrastructure, lack of education, lack of access to healthcare, lack of gender equality, and the reality of foreign-imposed restrictions—then there is going to be another crisis further down the road. And once again it will be women who will suffer the most.”

 

West African Women and Water Training

water drips into a bowl, an image from the West African Women and Water video

Watch an inspiring video on the recent ‘West African Women and Water Training’ in Ghana. This video features Maame (Alice) Yelbert-Obeng, of the GFW Sub-Saharan Africa Team. Watch the videoarrow_on_white_s.gif

Find out more about the organizers: The Global Women’s Water Initiative, Crabgrass, A Single Drop and the Women’s Earth Alliance.

 

Wild Women With Disabilities Speak Out

A grantee partner speaks about the importance of the Global Fund to her organization's work with women with disabilitiesGlobal Fund Program Team member Iris Garcia attended Mobility International USA (MIUSA)'s WILD2010 event in Oregon last month. Meet our grantees who attended this inspiring event. Watch the video »

 

Stepping Toward a Brighter Future in Sierra Leone

Muadi Mukenge, GFW Program Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, traveled to Sierra Leone in West Africa for 9 days in June and shares this update on her experiences.

Muadi Mukenge with GFW advisor Susan Sesay

This past June, I took a whirlwind trip through this beautiful country recovering from a devastating 11-year war.
Read more »
 
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